The young dancer.
Mr. B come to the United States in 1933 at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein. Together, they founded the School of American Ballet (SAB), which Balanchine saw as the foundation on which to build a ballet company. Their goal was an American school and company, rather than a Russian transplant, a goal that has been realized; over the last four decades, SAB and New York City Ballet (NYCB) have become firmly established. In addition, the directors of many companies and schools, many teachers and ballet masters are alumni of the School or the company.
Most of the teachers currently at SAB were hired by Mr. B. We come from diverse backgrounds (Russian, Danish, American) but we work to convey his aesthetic. Using Petipa as a starting point, Mr. B broadened the classical vocabulary and expanded dancers' awareness of the movement possibilities in that vocabulary. He constantly strove to help us achieve greater clarity, articulation, and radiance--all qualities still stressed at the school.
Classes at SAB demand maximum effort and concentration as students develop and use the high energy level required by the Balanchine oesthetic. "Relax is for the grave" was one way he put it. At the same time, teachers try to convey in their classes the joy of dance and of life. We also make the students aware of the entire body and help them achieve complete control of it. They acquire a clear understanding of the vertical division of their bodies, and an acute awareness of front, back, and side. When they point front or back, their toes are on the center line of the body, not opposite the working hip. Our students keep their weight on the balls of their feet, not their heels, so they can instantly move in any direction. They learn to work in the extremes: maximum turnout, high extensions, big lumps, juicy and large plies, at great speed and in slow motion. They master clean, precise positions and articulate footwork and epaulement. Their ports de bras are freer, using elbows, wrists, and fingers. We encourage them to move bigger, with the whole body bending instead of being held stiff and straight.
"See the music, hear the dancing" was another of Mr. B's favorite expressions. Musicality and distinct phrasing are integral to everything we do in class. Females in advanced classes are required to wear pointe shoes, so that dancing in pointe shoes becomes second nature. Barre work is made up of simple, straightforward combinations repeated many times. It is not rigidly codified or elaborately choreographed, and there is no tilting.
Since Mr. B's ballets are still danced internationally, dancers trying to achieve his goals can be found in classrooms and studios and on stages all over the world. If you would like to see this technique demonstrated for yourself, the first tape in a new series which I made with Merrill Ashley, The Balanchine Essays, was released in May from Nonesuch. More tapes will be released in the future.
Suki Schorer danced with NYCB for twelve years, retiring as a principal in 1972, and has taught full-time at the School of American Ballet since then.
The Cecchetti Style
by Raymond Lukens
Simplicity is the most appropriate word to describe the style of a dancer correctly trained in the method of the great Italian maestro, Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928). Cecchetti had been a virtuoso dancer and extraordinary mime before becoming the greatest internationally recognized pedagogue of his time. His method is still taught today throughout the world, mostly by teachers qualified by one of the societies founded in his name.
The technical and aesthetic principles that lie at the base of Cecchetti work give the dancer purity of line, coordination, speed, stability, breadth, flow and harmony of movement.
Centering and transferring the weight, the use of the knees, hips, ankles, and metatarsal arch are among the technical principles explored here. To center the weight the dancer should be well grounded with the feet solidly placed on the floor, the spine stretched and the head poised, allowing the weight to fall into the ground, freeing the body from unnecessary tension. From this placement, transferring of weight flows organically from the use of the weight of the head and body, the use of the floor during chasses, glissades, jetes, and other steps. It gives the dancer the base from which to move naturally and with ease. Examples of these principles are evident in passages from Jardin aux Lilas, choreographed Antony Tudor, who was a product of Cecchetti training.
The way the knees, hips, ankles and metatarsal arch are involved determines the quality of a jump. For long, high, sweeping jumps, the knees and hips come more into play; in terre a terre allegro and pointe work, the concentration is more on the lower part of the legs.
Cecchetti work covers all aspects of dynamics, quality and muscular involvement, giving the dancer the technical expertise to execute both swift, crystalline footwork and big, virtuoso leaps,
A prime example of c successful Cecchetti-trained dancer is Royal Ballet's Darcey Bussell, who has said that the Cecchetti work has given her strength, discipline, and coordination, and that after she joined the Royal she became acutely aware of how lucky she was to have had Cecchetti training.
The aesthetic principles in Cecchetti training are typified in the port de bras. To correctly execute port de bras the dancer needs to have a deep understanding of how the head and arm movements organically grow out of the use of the spine and shoulder girdle.
The great British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton wrote (in a personal letter to eminent scholar Richard Glasstone), "If I had my way, I would always insist that all dancers should daily do the wonderful port de bras, especially beginners. It inculcates a wonderful feeling for line and correct positioning and use of head movements and epaulement which, if correctly absorbed, will be of incalculable use throughout a dancer's career."
The Cecchetti aesthetic also deals with movement, passing through c ear shapes while following strict rules of anatomy and balance of line. These rules were established by the Florentine Renaissance artists and refined by the great dance masters as ballet developed from court spectacle into professional theatrical dancing. Line in Cecchetti work refers not only to the forming of shapes in space, but also to lines of movement which connect those shapes. Clarity of shape comes from coordinated, uncluttered movement. Bruce Sansom, one of Royal Ballet's leading dancers, has related that Ashton wanted his dancers to show every position clearly, but to continue moving.
The simplicity of style in the Cecchetti dancer is a natural consequence of the fact that the method is based on universal principles that transcend the specific stylistic boundaries of romantic, classical, neoclassical and even contemporary ballet. In an article in the British magazine Dancing Times, Ashton wrote: "A sound training, such as one receives through the method of Maestro Cecchetti, embodying as it does a complete and pure theory of movements, awakens within the dancer a response to any style he may be called upon to interpret--and this is surely the ultimate artist."
With Franco De Vito, Raymond Lukens founded the Italian Cecchetti Society. He teaches regularly in Florence, Italy, and is Ballet Master of the Hartford Ballet.
Royal Academy of Dance Training
by Delia Foley Diggles
The Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) was founded in 1920 in England by four distinguished ballet teachers: Adeline Genee, Tamora Karsavina, Phyllis Bedells and Edouard Espinosa. Brought together by Philip Richardson, founder and chief editor of the British magazine Dancing Times, their aim was to improve the standard of the study and art of ballet. The school was granted a Royal Charter in 1936.
Over the years the academy has trained thousands of dancers, many of whom have gone on to become professional performers. The Academy today provides teaching and examining in more than fifty-seven countries and its syllabi are used worldwide.
Designed for children ages seven to eleven, the Royal Academy of Dancing children's syllabus provides a framework for highly structured training that emphasizes both artistry and discipline. The training aims to give children a sound and basic understanding of their bodies as it pertains to executing classical technique.
The first factor that differentiates RAD training from other methods is the teaching of unforced turnout. This gradual development, strengthening, and controlling of the turnout is based on the individual's aptitude. The goal is to produce a technical skill that greatly reduces the chance of injury, because it is developed during the important growing years.
The RAD method of training considers the dynamic structural integrity of the entire body, from the feet through the pelvis and upward through the spinal column. Technique is tailored to the individual's body. Children ore taught a technique that recognizes their own physical abilities and limitations. They are also encouraged to enjoy dancing through free movement in contemporary and other styles as well as several different kinds of character dancing. This helps the young dancer to see the importance of other styles of dance and how they are incorporated into dance performances.
RAD training continues with the major syllabus, which stresses correct alignment of the pelvic and spinal areas, increased use of the inner thigh, clarity of footwork, and fluid line, particularly in the port de bras and arabesque. Students are taught to tailor extensions to their body type. Musical dynamics and phrasing are also taught, as is projection and presentation.
RAD's training in romantic, classical, neoclassical and contemporary styles is rigorous, but never sacrifices the dancer's individuality. RAD recognizes the importance of the projection of inner feelings, and that this is often what elevates a dancer from proficient technician to luminous star.
Delia Foley Diggles is an examiner for the Royal Academy of Dancing and artistic director of the Mohawk Valley Performing Arts Company.
The Russian Method of Classical Ballet
By Jurgen Schneider
The Russian Method of classical ballet has a rich history embedded in czarist Russia. This method is an integration of the Danish, French and Italian Schools, further developed by Nicolai Legat in Russia. During the early Soviet times, Agrippina Vaganova, at the Leningrad Choreographic School, began to develop and codify these existing elements into what is sometimes referred to as the Vaganova Method. This is a misnomer since it ignores other great master teachers of the Moscow School such as Nicolai Tarasov and Elizavetta Gerht who also added elements to what is known today as the Russian School.
The Russian Method, an eight-year program, uses French terminology in which steps are explained from their simplest form, for beginning level students, through the more complicated intermediate level form, to the most advanced and most complex forms. A numerical floor plan or diagram helps the students to orient themselves in space and to master poses, known as epaulement, in different angles and directions, which is important for the free interpretation of the material for the stage.
Emphasis is given to the training of the upper body and to the expressivity of the arms while developing the flexibility and strength of the legs. Exercises are introduced in a progression which helps the students to understand the character of each step. In essence, the entire body is trained in coordinated fashion from the fingertips to the toes. Teachers introduce original combinations with improvisational accompaniment, rather than teaching set, codified exercises to familiar classical music repertoire.
Students a re accepted for training on the basis of their potential physical aptitude for dance, and are trained daily, learning at a very early age softness, expressivity, and fluidity of movement. This is accomplished through the use of the upper body, the study of poses and the six codified port de bras, The port de bras are taught in a logically coordinated and harmonious manner, from the simple to the more complicated forms. Later, in coordination with the head movements, the port de bras are included in more complex exercises allowing the dancers to freely and independently express themselves. In the study of poses it is stressed that each has its own expression which must remain consistent throughout the more difficult studies of adagio, tours, and allegro work.
Musicality is important in the students' development. Pianists are trained to understand how to express the character of each movement. They help form the fully developed artist; it is constantly emphasized that classical ballet is rooted in the expression of movement to music. The students Study music beginning at an early age, continuing through the end of their schooling.
Another aspect of the Russian schooling is the study of the rich heritage found in the folkloric dances of the former Soviet republics and other countries, known as character dance. Historical Dance is studied in the elementary years and the final year, helping students develop poise and grace. In the final three years the study of partnering or pas de deux work is thoroughly covered.
The Russian system is not a dogma. Every generation has left its influence on the program; it is constantly evolving through reevaluation in light of developing ballet repertoire.
All certified teachers of the Russian Method are schooled in this system. They pursue further studies of the methodolgy enabling them to understand not only the physical and artistic aspects of the crt form, but also the psychological development of the students into artists. Because of constant reevaluation the system continues to provide a united style to prepare future generations of students and teachers alike while continuing to develop a living, breathing syllabus.
Jurgen Schneider trained as a Ballet Master-Pedagogue in Moscow and St. Petersberg, and continues to serve in that capacity in major companies.
by Alexandra Tomalonis
The spirit behind the dance. Bournonville wanted to produce a balanced technique with no one aspect being emphasized of the expense of another. He believed that "the secret of true art is to conceal its technical aspects and its physical Strains under a cover of harmonious calm," as he wrote in his Choreographic Studies. Bournonville choreographed for the whole body; the visual relationship among head, shoulders, torso, arms and legs was of paramount importance. In the Bournonville technique, each step has prescribed arm positions, and his epaulement places the head and shoulders in graceful opposition to the rest of the body. Although he was a virtuoso dancer and the Danes have produced many great virtuosi, virtuosity for its own sake was never Bournonville's point.
The technique is embodied in six classes which are known today as the Bournonville Schools. They were recorded by a Danish ballet master, Hans Beck, two decades after Bournonville's death in 1 879. Beck wrote down combinations, and sometimes whole variations, as a way of maintaining a technical standard for the Royal Danish Ballet in the absence of a ballet master. The schools are named for each of the days of the dancing week, and ballet children danced these classes exclusively--repeating them until they mastered them--until the last purely Bournonville teacher, Karl Merrild, retired in 1949. For many years there was only one class for all children (ages six to sixteen), and the smallest ones stood in the back row, copying those in front, until they moved up to the front of the class--or gave up. The method, which may seem primitive by today's standards, produced an astounding number of dancers, particularly men, of international caliber, Recently, a group of Danish men have easily adapted their inherited Bournonville technique to the twists and speed of Balanchine choreography. Peter Martins, Adam Luders, lb Andersen, and Nikolaj Hubbe have all made great careers with New York City Ballet.
Bournonville technique has become synonymous with male dancing. He thought pointe work without context was a vulgar trick and therefore chose not to develop it. He treated men and women as equals, and women, especially jumpers, can profit from his classes.
Today's Bournonville teachers usually mix the steps from the old schools to form a class to their own liking (and with their own barre; Bournonville's is now considered too short), although the Wednesday Class, or one of the other five schools, is often taught in workshops in America and in Copenhagen, Denmark. The combinations are much longer than modern sequences, and dancing them gives a dancer stamina. They are full of jumps and small beaten steps, quick changes of direction and delicate, precise footwork. Dancers say they are fun to dance, which would please Bournonville immensely, for he thought, above all, that dancing should express joy.
Alexandra Tomalonis is editor of the quarterly publication Dance View. She is currently writing a biography of the noted Danish dancer and ballet master Henning Kronstam.